Welch urges SCHIP supporters to fight for expansion

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says supporters of a popular federal health care program for children must continue to fight for its expansion.

That’s even though the U.S. House failed this afternoon to override President Bush’s veto of the proposal.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In many respects, the battle between Congress and the White House over this issue is a debate over who should be eligible for health care services through a program known as SCHIP.

President Bush argues that it’s a program

designed to provide health coverage to low-income children.

The administration would like to set income eligibility levels at 200% of the federal poverty level – or roughly $42,000 for a family of four.

But a number of states, including Vermont, have set the income level at 300% of poverty – or about $61,000 a year for a family of four.

The legislation that the President vetoed would have allocated an additional $7 billion a year for the next five years to help states expand their programs.

Congressman Welch says he disagrees with the basic premise of the President’s argument.

(Welch) "The President, I think, is flat-out wrong on that. This would go up to about 300% of poverty, which is what we’re already doing in Vermont and many other states are doing. And I think we’re seeing the reality that families – where you’ve got a husband and wife who are both working, they’ve got a couple of kids, they can’t afford health care. I mean a lot of those working families – now they’re the ones losing access to health care."

(Kinzel) Ten states also use SCHIP money to provide coverage to low-income adults as a way to encourage these families to enroll their children in the program.

The President strongly opposes this approach.

Welch doesn’t and says that the bill actually phases out coverage for most parents. The only adults left eligible would be pregnant women.

(Welch) "I am actually in favor of doing whatever we can to get all our citizens covered by health care."

(Kinzel) Congressional leaders will now try to negotiate a compromise with the White House.

Welch says it would be wrong to make too many concessions.

(Welch) "You know what one of the frustrations that the American people have with Congress is they have a perception that Congress won’t take a stand even when Congress is right. My view: We take a stand. We send him back the same bill. I mean, if we can adjust a little language here and there, that’s fine. Reach out to people who want to get on the right side of this. But we can’t be compromising on the number of kids we’ve already covered."

(Kinzel) In the short term, the failure to authorize a new S-CHIP program won’t impact the number of children who are covered in Vermont.

The Douglas administration says it has enough surplus money available in its overall Medicaid budget to ensure that no children are dropped from the program.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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